Sunday, July 31, 2005

Benchmarks

My twenty-year high school reunion was this weekend.

I know a lot of people skip such functions for various reasons-- they say they didn't like the people they went to school with, they think nobody liked them, or they're just "too cool" to do reunions.

Whatever.

I've found that I learn a lot from these functions.

The ten-year showed me why I never quite fit in. I was on the fringes of half a dozen cliques without really being a member of any of them. At the time, I thought there was something wrong with me. But the ten-year reunion showed me that the problem wasn't me, it wasn't them, it was just the natural outcome of my personality. I'm not a joiner and my personality seems to be a random combination of intense focus followed by sudden abandonments and reversals of interest. I was flighty in high school and well into my twenties. If I stayed interested in a boyfriend for more than two weeks, it was noteworthy. I'm not good at being exclusionary. I had brainy friends, creative friends, slacker friends and every kind of friend in between. None of that made me good clique material, but it helped me move between cliques easily.

The ten-year reunion helped me come to terms with this and it set the stage for my acceptance a few years later, that I'm an introvert by nature and that's okay. Living in an extroverted society, an introvert like me gets so many messages that their instincts and needs are wrong. What a relief to realize that it really is all right that there are days when I can't bear to be around people, even the ones I love. What a revelation that there's nothing pathological about my need to hole up and recharge after spending time out in public, even if it's with the people I care about the most. So many things suddenly made sense, like the way college dorm life or working two jobs would drive me to a state of near-insanity. "Quit looking at me!" I would want to shout at random strangers, whether they were looking at me or not. "Just go away!"

Of course I never said such things, but my mind would scream them until I would truly wonder if I was losing my mind.

Once I learned to accept that I was an introvert and I didn't have to fight it, so many things fell into place. My confidence soared, the angst and squirreliness of trying to be what I wasn't dropped away, and I was finally able to organize my life in a way that would make me and the people around me happy. I have my ten-year reunion to thank for that because it provided benchmarks that set the stage for this deeper understanding of myself.

So what did I learn from my twentieth?

Well, I'm still taking stock and I think I'll still be parsing this a week or two from now. I'm just that kind of person. But my overwhelming impression was one of warmth and friendliness. People were less cliquish than before. People seemed happy just to see each other, and the stupidity of who was in which little status group seemed largely forgotten. People who never invited me to their parties were open and welcoming. People I had little to do with in school seemed glad to see me and I was glad to see them. There were people I would've loved to see, who weren't there. But there were people I hoped would be there who did show up, and it was wonderful. There was also a person I wanted to impress-- the tattered remnant of a twenty-one year old slight-- and once I saw this person, I realized I didn't give a damn what they thought because they so weren't worth the trouble. And the prettiest girl in our class paid me a compliment, although twenty years ago she wouldn't have deigned to speak to me unless she dropped her pencil and it rolled under my desk.

It was that sort of reunion.

I think we are starting to reach an age where we truly appreciate the people who knew us when we were young and stupid. There's something oddly comforting about that. We make so many friends as we go through life and of course many of our new friendships are intense, loving and long-lasting. But nothing can replace the person who "knew you when." It's a different quality of relationship and there is no substitute, no comparison. It's almost like family, only without so much baggage.

Reunions are a fascinating way of taking stock. It's like looking into a mirror at who you were and seeing how far you've come, what's changed and what has remained the same. The mirror is a little warped and dim, but the image that it reflects back is a valuable one. If you can't understand and come to terms with your past it will only be that much harder to move into the future.

In that song we sang in preschool, they never quite explained why we need to hang onto our old friends. Silver? Gold? What the heck is that supposed to mean? How can my friends be silver and gold? Should my friends be rich?

No, the only valuables you'll get from your old friends is insight. And a wise person realizes that this is more valuable than any riches that can be stored on earth.

4 comments:

Wil said...

What a great post. You really nail it, and I could totally relate to what you said about people just being people now, so many years after high school. I wonder if they've grown up or if we're just more confident and we now "fit." Who knows, it probably doesn't matter, so many of those "cool" people in high school hit their peak then, and now maybe it's our time. This really said it: "If you can't understand and come to terms with your past it will only be that much harder to move into the future."

Exactly.

Flatman said...

Wow...very good insight. You are so true about everyting in this post. Thanks for sharing and I am glad you had a good time!

Vertical Man said...

So, so true. The people who knew us "back when..." have insights about us that nobody else will ever possess.

Anonymous said...

This is insight I wasn't expecting. I admit to being one of those who never attended one of my high school reunions. (I don't even remember if there was a 25th; it would have been in 2003.) I am still stuck in that memory of the cliques, blah blah blah. My brain knows that people change, but my gut still knots up when I think about the horror of gym class and nobody wanting me on their team.

When our 30th year reunion rolls around in 2008, I might actually go. :)

Alannah